A Northwest Territories flight instructor was in the midst of upgrading his teaching certification on a newly acquired plane when he was called to use his piloting prowess to help flood victims in the lower mainland of British Columbia.

Raphael Jeansonne-Gėlina, chief flight instructor with the Terry Harrold School of Aviation, a subsidiary of Northwestern Air Lease based in Fort Smith, had been training at Oceanside Air in Nanaimo, B.C. for two weeks to upgrade his certification.

He will now be able to train Northern flight students seeking their commercial licence on a Piper Seneca aircraft that Northwestern Air Lease recently purchased.

Up to Thursday, he had been prepared to provide medevac service for priority patients needing regular hospital checkups out of Hope and Chilliwack, B.C. to Vancouver and Victoria.

“Raphael had been on his way to Victoria to catch a flight to come back up here (following his course) and he was approached, and he checked it with us and we said absolutely, just do it,” said James Heidema, chief operating officer of Northwestern Air Lease.

Floods in the area left hundreds trapped and isolated this week.

“We have a fair number of people in our crew who can fly smaller aircraft and that’s what you need in an area like this because it’s not the big airports that are being affected. It’s the smaller ones, and you can’t get the big aircraft in there,” said Heidema.

NNSL Media reached Jeansonne-Gėlina by phone on Thursday afternoon. He said although it had been planned for him to help fly people from Hope and Chilliwack to receive medical aid, things changed at the last minute.

“As I was trained and qualify on the plane, on Wednesday morning they made the call to try to help bring people out and asked if I could give a hand because they were a bit understaffed,” Jeansonne-Gėlina said.

“It ended up we only flew one person out of Chilliwack and since then there’s been a lot of confusion and last-minute changes.

“We were supposed to fly 20 persons out of Chilliwack to Vancouver and while we were flying, we were told that they went with another company and jumped on their plane.”

Another call for assistance from Hope was also cancelled as NAVCanada put restrictions on who could fly in that zone for emergency service.

A message was left with Oceanside Air about its involvement with lower mainland flooding rescue but a spokesperson could not be reached Thursday evening.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa.. Simon can be reached at (867)...

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